Question from a Site Viewer
I have some questions on baptismal regeneration. I agree that faith alone saves, but how do you explain Mark 16:16? Mark 16:16 says that faith plus baptism (together) equals salvation. It doesn’t say that faith equals salvation. So faith saves and baptism saves . . . but both are required together.
Additionally, according to a Bible commentary I recently read:
They go together in this way. Baptism cannot, therefore, be a mere sign or symbol that bestows nothing. If it were no more it could not be so vitally connected with salvation. Baptism bestows and the believing baptized person accepts and receives this great “salvation” from the Savior. For anyone who comes to faith baptism is the great means of grace, i.e., the channel by which forgiveness, life, and salvation are bestowed upon him. As he believes the word, so he will demand all that the word promises in baptism and thus the baptismal act itself.
The word “and” grammatically shows that Jesus is placing equal importance on both belief and baptism. Belief and baptism are conditions to: “shall be saved.” Again, we see that belief saves and baptism saves. Both are required together.
We also see that baptism is before the remission of sins in Acts 2:38. In Romans 6:4, baptism is before newness of life. Acts 22:16 says that baptism is before sin being washed away. In I Peter 3:21, baptism is placed before salvation. Jesus placing baptism before salvation, then, is congruous with the teaching throughout the New Testament. Again, it seems as if the act of baptism saves.
I do not know what Bible commentary you are quoting, but I assume that it must be from a person who believes that baptism saves. Simply because a book is called a Bible commentary does not make it more trustworthy. The Pharisees in Christ’s day had Bible commentaries and Christ Jesus did not find them always trustworthy (Mark 7:9-13). Ultimately, Bible commentaries are trustworthy only to the extent they accord with what Scripture teaches. Everything in print purporting to explain the Scriptures may be read to seek insight, but ultimately the test of truth is what Scripture itself teaches (Acts 17:11).
You ask how to explain Mark 16:16, particularly the observation that salvation is connected to faith plus baptism and not faith alone. According to the commentary you read, the author states that baptism bestows salvation (baptism saves) and the baptismal act is the means of grace by which we are saved. You then state that the word “and” grammatically shows the equal importance of faith and baptism. Finally, you point out that placing baptism before salvation is consistent with the rest of the teaching of Scripture.
First, let me urge you to get a Bible program and do a search of Scripture for the words “baptize,” “baptized,” and “baptism.” You should find that one of these words is found somewhere around 48 times in the books of Matthew, Mark, Luke, and John. These books are the ones that provide to us the vast majority of the direct teachings of Jesus. Or, if you have a Bible concordance, you can do the same thing manually by looking up the passages that contain one of these words.
Second, I would urge you to do the same with the words “believe,” “believes,” “believed,” “believing,” and “faith” in the same four books. If you use the King James Version to search, you will need to substitute the word “believeth” for “believe.” You should come up with slightly over 170 references.
If you do this, you will find there are only two places in the gospels where the concept of baptism and faith are mentioned together–only two. The first is Matthew 21:25 where Jesus asks the chief priests and elders a question about the baptism of John the Baptist. The chief priests and elders refused to answer because they knew that if they said his baptism was from heaven Jesus would ask why they did not believe John the Baptist. This mention thus has nothing to do with our salvation. The other place is Mark 16:16. Outside of Mark 16:16, the only times Jesus speaks of baptism are at His own baptism (Matthew 3:14-17), the baptism of His own suffering (Matthew 20:22-23; Mark 10:38-39; Luke 12:50), and the question about John’s baptism in Matthew 21:25, which account also is found in Mark 11:30 and Luke 20:4). None of these other three events concern salvation. Certainly, we cannot say that Jesus was saved at His baptism. Such would be heresy. Nor was Jesus saved by His sufferings; though His sufferings brought salvation to us. And the question to the religious leaders about John’s baptism had nothing to do with salvation. So, when we read Mark 16:16, we must read it with what has come before. Before Mark 16:16, Jesus has not made baptism even a passing thought in His discussions of salvation. Never once did he even hint that baptism saves. Rather, baptism has been linked to righteousness (Matthew 3:15) and to suffering.
Contrast this to the subject of belief and faith. Repeatedly, Jesus links faith to salvation (Luke 7:50; 18:42; John 1:12-13; 3:15, 16, 18, 36; 4:39-43; 5:24; 6:40, 47; 7:38 [belief as the condition for having the Holy Spirit]; 9:35-38; 10:37-38; 11:25-26; 12:46; 14:1; 17:20; 20:30-31). If Jesus thought that baptism was needed in addition to faith, then His statements in these many passages are only partial truths, and we know that partial truths are another name for lies, as we find in Genesis 2 with Satan’s temptation of Eve. Stated another way, if Jesus said that the one who believes in Jesus will have eternal life (John 3:16, etc.), and a person believes in Jesus, then either that person must have received eternal life or Jesus is a liar. Jesus does not say in any of these passages that you must believe and be baptized to receive eternal life. The sole condition is faith. And the fact that faith is the sole condition upon which God bestows righteousness to an individual is the consistent theme throughout the pages of Scripture, as Romans 4 and Hebrews 11 so powerfully state. Abraham believed God and it was accounted to him for righteousness (Genesis 15:6). No mention is made of baptism. Psalm 2:12 says that those who believe in the Son are blessed. No mention is made of baptism. The Scriptures never state that without baptism it is impossible to please God. But the Scriptures affirmatively state that without faith it is impossible to please God (Hebrews 11:6). The thief on the cross pleased God and received salvation apart from baptism. As Romans 10:10 affirms, with the heart one believes unto righteousness and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.
So, when I give primacy to faith, I am only doing what Jesus did. There is no equality in Jesus’ teaching between faith and baptism. Repeatedly Jesus links faith and salvation. Only once, in Mark 16:16, does He ever even mention baptism and salvation in the same breath. The priority Biblically is on faith. Based on the Biblical evidence, it’s hard to say that baptism saves.
Second, the commentary cites four places in Scripture where according to the commentator baptism comes before salvation (Acts 2:38; 22:16; Romans 6:4; and 1 Peter 3:21). First, as we have pointed out in our article on the passage, baptism does not necessarily come before salvation in Acts 2:38. Rather, we believe that the better translation of that verse is that Peter calls upon the people to be baptized because of the remission of sins brought about by the death of Christ. Second, in Acts 22:16, the exact relationship between baptism and the washing away of sins is not detailed. What the verse gives are two commands: “be baptized” and “wash away your sins.” What role baptism has on washing away sins or what role washing away sins has on baptism is not explained in this verse. One cannot say that one precedes the other, except for the mere fact that one precedes the other in the sentence. But anyone who knows Greek knows that word order in a sentence is not what it is in English. Words can be in almost any order in Greek. Some Greek grammarians have argued that the first word or word phrase of the sentence may be seen as the main point of emphasis in the sentence and the last word or word phrase of the sentence may be seen as a secondary point of emphasis. But I have read no Greek grammarians who otherwise hold word order in Greek to create a priority of one idea over another. These verses provide no evidence, for me, that baptism saves.
As for the Romans 6:4 passage, I do not believe that passage even discusses water baptism. When we are baptized in water, we are commanded to be baptized in the name of the Father and the Son and of the Holy Spirit (Matthew 28:19). The Romans 6:3-5 passages speaks not of a baptism in the name of the Father, Son, and Holy Spirit; but rather of a baptism into Christ Jesus; that is, the medium in which we are placed is not water but is Christ Himself. And, according to Scripture, the person who places us into Christ Jesus is not a human being, but is none other than the Spirit Himself (1 Corinthians 12:13). For those who see water baptism and the baptism by the Spirit as being the same thing, I simply note that the writer of the book of Hebrews notes that there is more than one baptism (Hebrews 6:2; see also Acts 19:1-5).
The last passage your commentator mentions is 1 Peter 3:21. That verse speaks of a baptism that saves by the request of a good conscience towards God through the resurrection of Jesus Christ. Thus, I do not concede that any of the passages cited in the commentary show that water baptism comes before salvation.
Further, the commentary (at least the section you quote) leaves out some powerful passages where baptism is clearly not given priority before salvation. Of course, the most obvious one is that of Jesus Himself. His baptism did not come before He was saved. He was baptized not to become righteous (He already was righteous) but rather to fulfill all righteousness (Matthew 3:14-17). If we follow the Lord in baptism, then likewise we are not baptized to become righteous, but because we have received righteousness by faith we are baptized to fulfill all righteousness. It is our righteous standing that entitles us to receive baptism.
Again, in Acts 10:44-48, Cornelius and those who were with him were righteous before they were baptized. Baptism did not save them. This is demonstrated by the fact that they received the gift of the Holy Spirit while they were yet unbaptized. Scripture affirms that the gift of the Spirit is a mark of our salvation (Romans 8:9; 2 Corinthians 1:22; Ephesians 1:13). Only after they had the Spirit did Peter remark that baptism should not be withheld from them. Again, in Acts 16:31, when Paul and Silas were asked what the Philippian jailor had to do to be saved, they affirmed that if the Philippian jailor believed he would be saved. They said nothing about the need to believe and be baptized to be saved. The sole criteria for salvation, as it was repeatedly in the teachings of Christ, was belief in Christ. Afterwards, they were baptized, having believed as verse 34 explains. And, in Acts 19:1-6, there were individuals who were already disciples (verse 1) and who had already believed (verse 2), but who had not been baptized. Each of these are examples show salvation first followed by baptism, which examples are not mentioned in the commentary for whatever reason, and which examples run contrary to the assertion by the commentator.
So, in answer to your question about why salvation is linked to faith plus baptism and not faith alone, I do not see Scripture teaching such a linkage, unless Mark 16:16 is the sole exception. Rather, what I see consistently in Scripture is that salvation is by grace through faith and that baptism is an event that comes after that inward imparting of eternal life. I do not see in Scripture the teaching that baptism saves.
You also argue that the “and” in Mark 16:16 shows that Jesus is placing equal importance on faith and baptism. I respectfully disagree. The Greek word “kai” that we translate as “and” can have many meanings just as the English word “and” does. Sometimes the word connects equals. Sometimes it does not. When Jesus said in Mark 12:17 that we should render to Caesar the things that are Caesar’s and to God the things that are God’s, I do not believe that He is intending us to understand an equality between what we render to Caesar and what we render to God. In Mark 10:21, when Jesus instructed the rich young ruler to go his way, sell whatever he had and give to the poor and come and follow Christ, I do not think that Jesus would want us to understand that there is an equality in these commands. Going his way was not equal with following Christ. Selling what he had and giving to the poor was not equal to following Christ. Rather, they were the predecessors to following Christ. Jesus’ words in Mark 8:36 about gaining the whole world and losing one’s soul is not intended to demonstrate an equality. To the opposite, they are intended to convey the idea that even the whole world is not equal to one’s soul. The argument that the “and” shows that Jesus is placing equal importance on both faith and baptism is a huge stretch. It is even a bigger stretch if we realize that Jesus did not speak in Greek, but in Hebrew (or some would say Aramaic which is a cognate language of Hebrew). Thus, the word translated “and” probably stems from Christ’s use of the Hebrew “vav,” a common conjunction with an extremely wide field of meanings. To state that it means an equality is akin to stating that if you get married and drive to the hotel you will be happy. There is no equality between getting married and driving to the hotel. The priority is the marriage. Likewise, for Christ to say that the one who believes and is baptized will be saved does nothing to state that these two concepts are equally important for one’s salvation. And the consistent teaching of Jesus elsewhere and of the rest of Scripture is that the priority always is on faith; never baptism, in the context of salvation.
So that then brings me back to Mark 16:16. The verse makes two statements. The verse affirms that the one who believes and is baptized is saved. And the verse also affirms that the one who does not believe is condemned. Beyond this, the verse does not directly affirm anything–especially not that baptism saves. For instance, the verse does not state what happens to the one who believes but is not baptized. In contrast, the verse directly affirms that the one who is baptized but does not believe is condemned, as such people are simply a subset of those who do not believe, a group that the verse says are condemned. So, in reading the verse, one cannot state that baptism saves, as the verse never affirms this statement. We know elsewhere in Scripture that faith is essential for salvation; but Scripture never elsewhere affirms that baptism is essential for salvation. In fact, the opposite is implied. In Romans 10:9-13, we have a promise of salvation apart from baptism, much like the many statements of Christ.
You may ask why Jesus would include baptism in this verse. I believe the answer is that baptism to Christ was the same for the believer as it was for Him. It is an act, not to achieve righteousness, but to fulfill righteousness. It is not a matter of salvation, but rather a mark of our salvation. It is our obedience and identification with the death and burial of Jesus Christ.
But I urge you not to take my word on this important matter. Rather, you should take your Bible and read through Scripture and see what it says on the subject. I have provided several Scriptures, but you will want to look at others as well to answer your question of whether or not baptism saves. Remember that the Scriptures are the best commentary on the Bible commentaries. It is not that commentaries are not helpful, but what they say and what I say must always give way to what Scripture says.
You also ask about the relationship between justification and baptism. I do not know of a single Scripture that links our justification and baptism. Our justification comes from our belief (Romans 5:1), and in this way it is linked to our salvation. Justification is the process or act by which we are seen as right in the eyes of God. Thus, when we believe, God declares us to be justified. This is our salvation. Though water baptism is never linked to justification, we can conclude that because justification results in our salvation, water baptism should follow justification in the same way that it follows our salvation. The death and resurrection of Christ provides the basis for our justification. Water baptism, in depicting our death and resurrection with Him, shows our identification with that means to justification. However, as with salvation, Scripture never affirms that water baptism brings about justification. Rather, to the contrary, justification is solely by faith in Jesus Christ (Romans 3:30; Galatians 3:8).
I trust these thoughts are helpful to you. May the Lord Jesus guide you into Himself in full measure, that you may comprehend the greatness of His love and the depth of His presence in your life, and that you may live your life as a blessing to God and humanity.
a fellow pilgrim,